Islanders GM: It’s My Fault We Suck
3:55 PM EST on January 26, 2023
The New York Islanders lost another one on Wednesday, further torpedoing playoff hopes that looked semi-reasonable a couple of months ago. With a 2-1 defeat in Ottawa, the Isles have fallen to a precarious 23-22-5 that serves as the 12th-best record in the Eastern Conference, and much of their position can be blamed on the way they've played in the new year. In their last 11 games, New York has picked up just five points, and it's hard to even credit them with some fighting spirit when they've scored more than two goals only once in that entire stretch. At least Claude Giroux got a cool goal off them.
The situation is dire, and Hall of Fame GM Lou Lamoriello knows it. Talking to reporters ahead of that failure against the Senators, the 80-year-old hockey lifer delivered an unequivocal message: We're losers because of me:
"There's no excuses. Because it's on me, totally on me. That's my responsibility to make us the best we possibly can, to make whatever changes we can. That's not on the coaching staff, that's not on the players, and I take that responsibility. It's making it happen. There's a lot of reasons why sometimes you can and you can't, and those are decisions you have to make. But I take full responsibility for whatever changes are or are not made."
Lamoriello is facing a ton of pressure ahead of the March 3 trade deadline, because this is a team that has more problems than can be solved in one or two moves. The most glaring is the fact that nobody's scoring. Potential cornerstone center Mat Barzal still hasn't quite delivered on the promise of an exciting rookie season back in 2017–18, Brock Nelson has slowed down after an outlier year as the team's leading goal-getter, and the depth guys left on the forward lines since Jordan Eberle went to the Kraken have mostly stayed where they are instead of stepping up.
The scary thing about the Islanders, though, is that I don't even think scoring is their weakest point. It's definitely not their strongest—that would be their goaltender Ilya Sorokin. But the way many of these Isles' losses are playing out point to an even more fundamental problem: There's too much action! While the good Islanders, the ones that made back-to-back conference finals, were masters of absorbing pressure, rendering it ineffective, and then counterattacking, these newer Isles are playing games that feature tons of chances on goal, on both nets. The offense isn't finishing, and they're not getting the most dangerous shots possible, but they are trying. Over the course of this losing stretch, they're averaging a respectable 58.53 shot attempts per game at 5-on-5. On the other end, however, they've been loosey-goosey, allowing 63.85 of the same, which is worse than all but three teams.
A serious injury to no-nonsense defensive workhorse Adam Pelech can shoulder some of the explanation for that failure, but the Isles were getting trampled on in too many games even before his extended absence. The loss of that pillar only further emphasized existing deficiencies, and they're just not talented enough to win when their goalies have to make upward of 35 saves a night.
Let's not lose sight of the fact that this is Lou's fault. It is! While I mostly chalk up the directness of this quote to nice-guy posturing that's meant to relieve some pressure from the team and rookie head coach Lane Lambert, the Isles' issues were not difficult to see coming. In 2018–19, after they lost John Tavares to Toronto but snagged Barry Trotz as their coach, a squad of unremarkables somehow transformed into one of the trickiest teams to beat in the league, with a net protected by a force field and a new leader in Barzal ready to take Tavares's place. The next two years were more of the same—nobody could really pinpoint exactly how the Islanders were so successful, but Trotz seemed to have the magic touch.
Last year was bad. The Islanders dealt with COVID issues, started on a miserably long road trip because their new building wasn't ready, and only got worse once they finally started playing home games. The shock of a 5-10-5 start never quite wore off, and when it was over Lamoriello reacted swiftly by firing a still pretty beloved Trotz. In the offseason, though, Lamoriello stayed committed to the same players, failing to pull the trigger on any significant free agents.
“There’s a lot to be excited about,” he said at the time. “And I know everyone looks at, if something isn’t done then it’s not good. Sometimes some of the best transactions to make are the ones you don’t make.”
It didn't make sense then and it makes even less sense now. The Islanders roster, god bless 'em, never looked all that special except when Trotz had them playing like a nasty, unbreakable batch of pests. To ditch that proven formula but keep the underwhelming pieces points to a bunch of compounding front-office failures. Even if some of their puck luck starts to turn on offense, and their defense ends up healthy down the stretch, they have a lot of ground to make up on equally motivated teams like Buffalo, Florida, and Washington just to snag the last playoff ticket and line up across from the overwhelming Bruins. Lamoriello has a very small window to try and make it right, or else—and he would seemingly agree with this!—it'll be time for someone else to try to put the Islanders back on track. Way to go, Lou.